An unexpected dream team saved me from a travel nightmare

An unexpected dream team saved me from a travel nightmare
June 29, 2021 Beth Nyland

“Something isn’t right.”

I look to my left and know my husband Jim agrees. He’s always alert and a little white-knuckled when towing our 30-foot travel trailer. But right now, his body language is way beyond, “Don’t bother me, I’m driving.” It’s a silent scream of, “Holy $#*%! What the &^@# is going on?!”

Our truck—a six-month-old Chevy Silverado 1500 with just-over-6000 miles on it—is shaking and knocking and every alert is lighting up the dashboard. We are two hours from home on day one of the 14-day RV vacation we have been planning for months. I’ve overpacked and prepared for just about any eventuality.

Except engine failure.

By sheer luck, we exit the highway, hang a cautious right turn, and Jim says, “Tell me that’s a car dealership.” As we pull past a few trees and round the bend, I catch sight of the huge, blue logo.

“It is! And it’s a Chevy dealership!”

We idle into the parking lot, marveling at so much open space. “Low” is an understatement for this inventory. We pull past one new pickup truck and a short row of pre-owned vehicles. I shake my head and think of the challenging messages I was crafting just last week, helping a manufacturing client communicate difficult news about global supply shortages. Now I’m smack dab in the middle of a stark illustration: Pandemic Strikes Parking Lot.

We cross the wide-open pavement, unhitch the RV, and chug the truck into Service.

Kayla calmly and kindly checks us in, sensing and acknowledging our stress. She runs a fast diagnostic test. It seems we’ve dropped a cylinder. (In the coming hours, Jim will educate me on how an engine works. In short: you need all eight cylinders firing all the time; seven won’t cut it.)

The service department is so busy, Kayla says they can’t look at our vehicle for several days. The repair itself—pending parts availability (did I mention global supply shortages?)—may take much longer.

There goes our RV adventure.

We’re done before we’ve even begun.

We are shocked, frustrated, angry, sad … you name it. Alone in the dead-to-us truck, there is swearing and crying and a lot of staring into space. What are we going to do?

We wallow briefly, then start making calls. Insurance companies. Towing services. Campgrounds. Our home Chevy dealer. Almost everyone puts us on hold or offers ideas for “later.”

Meanwhile, we discover that we are in the midst of people who know how to deal with “now.” Let me drop the name of this business right here: Lynch GM Superstore in Burlington, Wisconsin. Next time you find yourself in dire straits, I hope you land in the presence of a team like this one.

Kal from management calls a nearby campground and finds us a spot for that night. He’s optimistic that we’ll find a way to get the camper there. He’ll help.

A man in a neon shirt is cruising the lot, sees me coming out of the camper with my phone and a stack of insurance papers, and pulls up to ask if we’re okay. He’s an RV-er, too, he says. “You know, we had an Airstream here last month. That couple had truck trouble, too,” he says. “Talk to the GM. I bet he’ll let you camp here overnight.”

WHAT?!

So, while my husband continues gathering outrageous towing estimates and “sorry but no” responses from insurance companies, I wander into the dealership. I approach the receptionist and tell her what’s up. She doesn’t remember anyone camping on the property before, but she does not poo-poo the idea. Instead, she smiles and calls over her shoulder. “Jim?” The general manager pops up from his desk, discovers that I’m one of the stranded campers and says, “Oh, that’s YOU?”

By now, everyone in the dealership knows about us. Jim-the-GM comes outside and brainstorms with me and Jim-my-husband about options. At one point, he offers to pull our camper to a site where we’ve found a long-term camping spot an hour away—or even lend us his truck so we can tow the RV there ourselves.

This is kindness and can-do attitude on steroids.

Finally, with plenty of “you really don’t have to do that” from us but not a hint of hesitation from him, Jim-the-GM strides across the lot, starts his truck, hitches our camper to it, pulls the camper to a spigot where we can fill our fresh-water tank, and then parks the thing next to a light pole behind the dealership. We have water and electricity and a safe place to camp overnight. There’s even a pine tree for shade.

Unbelievable.

In the midst of all this, we can’t help but notice that ONE new pickup truck out front. It’s a Silverado 3500HD—a model we’ve been considering for “next time,” when we’re ready for a bigger truck. Perhaps “next time” is much sooner than we thought. My husband grills up some cheeseburgers, I pour us each a bourbon, and we spend the evening mulling a possible purchase.

After a surprisingly good night’s sleep, we wake to birds singing in that pine. If I angle my gaze above the sunshine glinting off the cars in the lot, I can imagine this as a normal campsite.

“Ready?” Knowing we have precious little leverage for any kind of negotiation, we head to the front of the dealership.

There’s that one new truck. A salesman named Dan comes bounding out of the building. The GM told him our story, so he asks about our parking lot stay. We say we’re feeling a lot better today, and we’d like to see that 3500, please. Dan grabs the keys and joins us for a test drive.

A couple hours later, we’re signing papers with another Dan, this one from Finance. Some dealerships would take advantage of circumstances like ours. But the Lynch team is more than fair.

At last, we’re shaking hands and thanking everyone in sight. I notice a new face in the showroom (I feel very much at home, having spent the night on the property!), and Jim-the-GM tells me it’s Patrick Lynch, the owner.

I cannot compliment this leader enough on his staff, their positive attitude, and their culture of kindness. “What you have here is an amazing team,” I say. Patrick nods but says he just feels bad that our vacation started with such a crisis.

Culture comes from the top.

Clearly, this man’s example has set the tone for an extraordinary team. Every person we encountered in his operation met us with compassion and a spirit of “of course we can.” They have permission to solve problems, creatively.

We pulled away from that car dealership having “lost” 23 hours of our vacation. But we recovered the rest of our trip; we gained a big, strong, safe vehicle and a bunch of new friends; and we have this story to tell for a lifetime.

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